Every new day will bring a bit more diversity to employers because of changing demographics in the U.S., but building inclusion in the workplace takes intention, speakers said during a Produce Marketing Association’s Virtual Town Hall on diversity.
The July 15 digital event was moderated by Doug Bohr, executive director of the Produce Marketing Association’s Center for Growing Talent, who said the topic is urgent in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and other events.
“I think it’s also important we also acknowledge that those events are part of a long history of systemic discrimination and injustice,” Bohr said during the session.
Panelist Johnny Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, said the mix of people and cultures is changing in the U.S.
“America is browning in great clumps, so just by waking up (every day), it’s going to be a more diverse population,” he said.
Diversity can represent differences in age, gender, age, thought, sexuality, political affiliation and more, he said.
“Broadly, (diversity) means you are bringing in different types of people to the workforce, bringing them together in one place or even virtually, for one particular business pursuit,” Taylor said.
Inclusion, on the other hand, is taking that group of very different people and getting them to work together towards a common goal.
The task isn’t easy, he said.
“We have a country that is as diverse as it’s ever been, and it as divided as it’s ever been,” he said. “Our challenge is making all of these people feel like they are included, and to make them feel valued at work.”
Because all individuals have “flat spots” where they may lack perspective, inclusion can improve business decision-making, said James Harris, director of diversity and inclusion and supplier diversity for San Antonio-based H-E-B.
To those people brought into an organization to give it diversity of perspective, Harris encouraged them to deliver exactly that.
“If you are (brought in) to round out their management team in the decision-making process, if you change to (become) more assimilated, then you have cheated the company and cheated yourself,” he said. “If you walk away from (the chance to add your perspective), what a missed opportunity,”
Rachel Cheeks-Givan, global director of diversity and inclusion for Pfizer, said inclusion can be a business advantage.
“Leveraging diversity and inclusion as a business advantage is probably where I am spending most of my time with business leaders, so that they could see the value proposition of it,” she said.
For small and medium-sized companies looking to add diversity, Taylor said companies must have honest conversations about what their culture is.
The definition of culture, he said, is “how things get done around here.”
“What we have found is that typically organizations talk about the culture that they aspire to be; they don’t talk about how it really works,” he said.
Taylor said business leaders should communicate to their employees about the current reality of their culture, and where they aspire to be on the diversity journey.
“Jumping out and pretending to be what you are not is just going to hurt you from a business perspective,” he said.
Panelists advised spending time creating measurable strategic goals for inclusion and diversity.